Thursday, February 16, 2006

2 languages good, 4 languages better?

The advantages of knowing more than one language are well known by now:
- Bilingualism increases mental flexibility for children.
- Bilingual children are more willing and able to learn a third language.
- They show an increased ability to analyse a language.
- They score higher on verbal tests conducted in English.
- They perform better in maths and logic skills than children.
- Bilingualism increases self-esteem, creativity and problem-solving skills.
- Bilingual children maintain a strong sense of their own identity and are more tolerant of other people and cultures.

About 20 years ago, Prof. Ellen Bialystok noticed that bilingual children were good at blocking out irrelevant information when it came to problem solving. When asked to identify a grammatically correct sentence, both bilinguals and monolinguals are, by age 5, able to choose, "Apples grow on trees," over "Apple trees on grow" as the correct one. But when it came to asking "Apples grow on noses" versus "Apples nose on grow," only the bilingual children were able to choose the right answer. Although the first sentence is grammatically correct, monolingual children could not get over its silliness. "That's crazy," they'd shout, "You can't say that!"

A range of cognitive tests has confirmed that bilinguals are always better at problems with tricky, misleading information. But did you know that it could also protect you from cognitive decline? Prof. Bialystok recently compared 94 bilinguals and monolinguals between the ages of 30 and 80. The study found that while both groups started showing cognitive decline by age 60, the rate of slowing for bilinguals was much slower.

The question now remains: if 2 languages are good, are 4 languages better? The jury is still out on that one.

Meanwhile, if you haven't started teaching your children a second language, it's never too early. Experts agree that before the age 4 is best, and that it will not lead to confusion with the mother tongue.

However, if your children are 5 years old or older, don't despair. The LSA report will show you how best to teach your child a new language. It will also tell you whether your child is likely to learn languages easily (children with a strong preference for words and for external auditory input are likely to enjoy learning foreign languages, as are children with a strong analytic component).

You can do your child's LSA assessment on

No comments: